The Rays entered Tuesday night's game on an 18-2 run, with their only two losses coming to the Astros. Prior to Tuesday night, the last team to beat the Rays other than the Astros was the Tigers, on June 28, some 3 1/2 weeks earlier.
With the defeat the Rays saw their six-game winning streak snapped and have fallen to 59-42 on the season, 1 1/2 games behind the Red Sox in the American League East.
Manager Joe Maddon noted that the key to the Rays beating the Red Sox comes down to one aspect of the game.
"We just have to do a better job hitting their pitchers," Maddon said.
As if to put an exclamation point on that sentiment, the final box showed that Rays hitters struck out 13 times.
"We don't normally [strike out that much]," Maddon said. "It was kind of a generous strike zone, and sometimes when you get that, that's going to cause hitters to come outside of their normal strike zones, because we've done a pretty good job of not expanding."
Red Sox starter Jon Lester was responsible for striking out eight Rays en route to his ninth win of the season.
And the win could not have come at a better time for the Red Sox. Matt Moore tossed a two-hit shutout against them on Monday night, and they'll be facing David Price on Wednesday night. All this served to make Tuesday night's matchup -- Lester against Roberto Hernandez -- all the more important.
"Where we are in the standings, where they are, knowing we're still only in July, but still, this was a big game for us tonight," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "For [Lester] to come out and respond and take control of the game as he did, very encouraging."
Any chance Tampa Bay had of winning evaporated in the eighth, when Boston scored three times to push its lead to four runs. One run scored when shortstop Yunel Escobar threw wildly to home, which brought to a close his club-record streak of 53 errorless games.
Wil Myers, who had missed the previous two games with a sore left wrist -- an injury sustained while sleeping -- hopped on a 93-mph sinker from Lester to lead off the second. When the ball cleared the Green Monster in left, Myers had his fifth home run of the season, and the Rays had a one-run lead.
Myers "did feel good," Maddon said. "He did not like sitting down for two days. He definitely kind of relayed that to me, verbally, that he was ready to go."
Added Myers: "That was pretty cool, especially to be able to hit it over the Monster. That's a pretty cool deal."
Boston answered in the bottom of the frame, when Mike Carp singled off Hernandez -- who took the loss, his 11th of the season -- to drive home Mike Napoli.
Two pivotal situations hurt the Rays' chances for victory.
First there was Shane Victorino's steal of home with one out in the third inning. Dustin Pedroia took off from first, and catcher Jose Molina threw to second. Unfortunately for the Rays, the ball got tied up at second. Pedroia was safe, and Victorino raced home giving the Red Sox a one-run lead.
Maddon maintained that had Pedroia been thrown out, Victorino would not have tried to go home.
"Victorino's really good," Maddon said. "I saw the whole thing really well. He did not really move until he saw the ball get tangled up with the runner, I thought. And then he did the right thing. Just [throw] the ball up a little more, and we would have had him."
Pedroia added a sacrifice fly in the fifth to push the lead to two runs. Evan Longoria then opened the sixth with his 21st home run of the season, a blast off Lester that cleared the center-field wall to pull the Rays within a run.
Then came the second moment that could have turned the game in the Rays' favor. After Molina's one-out double in the seventh chased Lester, reliever Matt Thornton retired Sean Rodriguez on a groundout. Junichi Tazawa came on to pitch to Desmond Jennings, who struck out swinging to strand the potential tying run at second.
Meanwhile, Hernandez continues to be snake-bit by a lack of run support.
"I think that's called bad luck," Molina said. "He pitched good, man. ... It's a shame that we can't perform the way we know we're capable of when he's pitching. That's pretty much wasting an outing for that pitcher."